The Mediterranean diet is inspired by foods eaten in countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. This includes Greece, Spain, France, and southern Italy. The Mediterranean diet is similar to other heart-healthy diets. It promotes foods such as fish, fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains. It does not include many meats, dairy products, or sweets. In other ways, the Mediterranean diet is different. For example, it allows for more calories from fats, like olive oil. The diet also allows for moderate intake of wine.
Path to improved health
Studies show that the Mediterranean diet has many health benefits. These are greater when combined with exercise. The diet can help you lose or maintain weight. It also helps to manage your blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels. In older adults, it can improve your brain function. Following the Mediterranean diet may also protect against some chronic diseases, such as:
- heart disease
- type 2 diabetes
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease.
You can integrate the Mediterranean diet into your lifestyle. Try some of the tips below. Talk to your doctor or a dietician if you have questions.
- Make vegetables, fruits, and whole grains the base of your meals. Your meals should center around these foods. Choose a wide mix of fruits and vegetables, and prepare them in simple ways. For example, you can roast your vegetables in the oven. If you sauté them, use olive oil instead of butter. Switch to whole-grain breads, pastas, and cereals. Try different whole grains, such as brown rice, quinoa, and millet.
- Use unsaturated fats instead of saturated fats. Make good choices about which fats you eat. When cooking, choose unsaturated fats, such as olive or canola oil. Limit your intake of saturated fats, such as butter, margarine, and coconut oil. Choose low-fat dairy products.
- Choose fresh, healthy snacks. Nuts are good snacks and a natural source of unsaturated fat. Eat a small handful of walnuts, cashews, almonds, or pistachios. Spread some all-natural peanut butter (with no added sugar or fillers) on a slice of whole-grain bread. Fresh vegetables are another good option. Eat them with hummus or olive oil instead of sour cream or cheese.
- Get most of your protein from plant sources, poultry, and fish. During the week, try eating mostly vegetarian meals. You can combine lentils, beans, or chickpeas with whole grains and vegetables. Once or twice a week, bake or grill fish, such as salmon, trout, or tuna. When you eat meat, choose poultry instead of red meat. Keep your portions at 3 to 5 oz. (the size of a deck of cards). Avoid red meat, sausage, bacon, and other high-fat meats.
- Raise a glass. On the Mediterranean diet, you can consume a moderate amount of wine. Red wine may have more health benefits than white wine. Women (or men over age 65) can drink up to 1 glass of wine a day. Men under age 65 can have up to 2 glasses a day. Drinking more than this can increase your risk of health problems.
- Limit sweets. Try to reduce your intake of soda, sweetened cereals, granola bars, and desserts. You only should consume these once or twice a week. Instead, if you have a sweet tooth, try eating a piece of fresh, dried, or baked fruit.
- Stay active. Remember, exercise helps boost the effects of the Mediterranean diet. Try to get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 days a week. A moderate exercise raises your heart rate and makes you break a sweat. Pick something that you enjoy. Walking, hiking, swimming, and riding a bike are good options.
Things to consider
New studies continue to find health benefits from the Mediterranean diet. However, there are health concerns that you should be aware of. If your iron levels are low, make sure you eat foods rich in iron and vitamin C. Combining foods such as spinach (high in iron) and strawberries (high in vitamin C) can help your body absorb iron. You also may have a calcium loss from eating fewer dairy products on this diet. Ask your doctor if you should take a calcium supplement.
Questions to ask your doctor
- Is a Mediterranean diet meant to be short-term or long-term?
- Should my kids follow the Mediterranean diet too?
- Are there vitamins or supplements I should take that go with the Mediterranean diet?
National Institutes of Health, MedlinePlus: Mediterranean Diet